Margot Fonteyn (1919–1991) earned her title of prima ballerina assoluta with her elegant presence, exquisite musicality and eloquent line. She was Frederick Ashton's muse, Rudolf Nureyev's partner and, for more than 40 years, the ideal of the English ballet style. As Daneman relates in this admiring and compulsively readable biography, well before forging her partnership with Nureyev, Fonteyn was a star, Britain's "Queen of Ballet." She was already in her early 40s when Nureyev defected in 1961 and she danced Giselle with him; despite the 20-year age gap, the unlikely pair generated magic on stage. Fonteyn was rejuvenated as a dancer: her career lasted an additional 15 years. But in Daneman's astute telling, Fonteyn's personal life proves more fascinating than her dance legend. She performed in London during the blitz, becoming "a national mascot," and was discovered in her hotel bed with a lover the night German troops entered the Hague. She had many lovers (Nureyev perhaps among them) before marrying Roberto Arias in 1955; Arias was a former Panamanian ambassador suspected of planning a coup against the government of President Ernesto de la Guarda. Fonteyn gave her final performance in the early 1970s and then retired to Panama to live with Arias, who had been paralyzed in an assassination attempt. Daneman has impeccable credentials: a graduate of London's Royal Ballet School and a former member of the Australian Ballet company, she's written four novels. Both critically sophisticated and dramatically compelling, this is a must-read for balletomanes as well as biography aficionados. Illus. not seen by PW.
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*Starred Review* Adored British prima ballerina Margot Fonteyn lived a life as fantastic as the fairy-tale plots of the ballets she made her own. The full story of her exceptional life and complex temperament has never before been told, and Daneman, a dancer and a novelist, seems to have been born to write this capacious and compulsively readable biography. With its lush detail and probing analysis, her many-faceted portrait of Fonteyn embodies the dancer's dramatic energy and mesmerizing allure. Born Peggy Hookham in 1919, she had the crucial support of her tirelessly ambitious mother; Ninette de Valois, director of the Royal Ballet; and choreographer Frederick Ashton. Daneman vividly re-creates each of Fonteyn's demanding roles and empathically chronicles her artistry, "legendary stamina," pragmatism, sense of style, aplomb, and unique appeal, not to mention her love affairs, rivalries, and wretched marriage to the philandering Panamanian fixer and politician Roberto Arias. In spite of numerous obstacles, Fonteyn attained new heights of accomplishment and fame in her midforties when she began dancing with a flamboyant partner half her age, Rudolph Nureyev. Enrapturing into her sixties, Dame Fonteyn lived life with grace and fortitude on her own demanding terms. (For more portraits of extraordinary dancers, see the adjacent Read-alikes column.) Donna Seaman
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